‘Religion’ not the answer

Jay Howard mistakenly thought childhood church attendance led to heaven (File photo)

Under the assumption that infant baptism and church attendance guaranteed him a spot in heaven one day, Jay Howard was shocked to discover that this was not the case at all.

Jay remembers receiving a "huge dose of Bible instruction" growing up and ultimately became a "very religious kid", dedicated to reading the Bible and Sunday school.

Based on this instruction, he says he assumed that a thorough knowledge of the Bible was enough to satisfy God, until one evening a friend explained the meaning of Jesus' life and death.

"During my Christmas vacation in 1972 a guy from my youth group, who had become a Christian a year before, shared the good news about Jesus' sacrifice for me. I just knew the whole thing was true," Jay explains.

It all suddenly made sense. What would be the point in Jesus dying as a sacrifice for mankind's sin if people still needed to work for their salvation through rigid religious rules, regulations and traditions?

Jay realised that God was more concerned in having a personal relationship with him and that reading the Bible, praying and meeting together with other Christians helped to achieve this.

This was confirmed to him through verses like Ephesians chapter 2 verse 8 and 9, "God saved you by His grace [undeserved kindness] when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."

"That was the night I went into my bedroom and asked Jesus to forgive my sins and accepted God's free gift," Jay says.

After this genuine commitment, Jay steadily grew in his Christian faith and relied on the inner working of God through the Holy Spirit to help him battle through the "uncoolness of Christianity" in his younger years.

He says he is grateful he chose to follow the Bible's instruction because it helped him avoid the pitfalls of sins that his family had been devastated by in the past.

"My father and grandfather were both alcoholics. I believe that God helped me to realise the dangers of substance abuse at an early age, and avoid the pain that drinking would have brought into my life," he explains as an example.

Although some people experience a radical and sudden change in attitude and behaviour after becoming a Christian, Jay says he has discovered that a gradual and consistent growth has helped him avoid feeling burnt-out or disillusioned.

Even through difficult times he has found that faith in God's promises has given him a sense of hope and freedom.

"The most difficult thing the Lord has brought me through so far was the death of my mum in 2003. When she died, the only thing that got me through was I knew she loved the Lord and that I would be reunited with her some day in heaven."

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